A Look Inside Disney's New Paper Sourcing Policy

Disney, one of the world’s largest media companies, made a big announcement today that can help the company move in a more sustainable direction when it comes to paper sourcing and use. This is a positive step toward environmental leadership by a company whose name is familiar to people around the globe. 

According to the policy, Disney will minimize paper consumption in its day-to-day operations and increase the recovery of used paper and packaging for recycling. In terms of paper purchasing, the policy addresses most of the themes covered in WRI’s Sustainable Wood and Paper Procurement Guide. Disney commits to maximize the use of recycled fiber, maximize the use of paper made from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests (as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or an equivalent forest certification scheme), and maximize the use of paper products processed without chlorine or chlorine compounds. Disney will also eliminate the use of paper made from “unwanted” raw materials including: 

  • illegally harvested wood
  • wood from high conservation value areas that are being degraded by poor land use practices; 
  • wood harvested in violation of internationally accepted instruments and treaties that protect the rights of indigenous or forest-dependent peoples
  • wood from areas that have been converted after November 1994 from natural forests to forest plantations or other land uses; and 
  • wood from plantations using genetically modified trees. 

Of course, it will be important for Disney to follow-through on its guidelines and put policies into action to ensure that it follows a sustainable path with its sourcing and use of paper. (Read more about Disney’s new policy on Marc Gunther’s blog). 

Global Action by a Global Brand 

This is a significant announcement, as it comes from one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. Its brands and characters are well known by people of all ages across the globe. Besides the company’s visibility, the policy is ambitious: It applies to the Walt Disney Company and all of its affiliates (e.g. Disney Channels, ESPN, ABC, Hyperion Books, Disney parks and resorts, Disney studios, Disney consumer products, and Disney interactive), and it applies to the paper used in all Disney-branded products (including licensed products), and in day-to-day operations. Because of the potentially large amount and variety of products involved, the policy could have implications for a large number of supply chains and actors throughout the world. 

Challenges and the Road Ahead 

The challenges to successfully implement the policy are likewise significant. As a first step, it’s important to understand what the company’s paper usage is, where paper products come from, and what the supply chains providing those products look like. Disney recognizes the challenge and the early implementation phases that are devoted to this. 

Because wood undergoes a significant transformation to become paper, it’s difficult to trace paper products to the exact forest of origin. But it is possible to track down the products to a level detailed enough to be able to assess risk of sourcing unwanted raw materials. There are standards to help verify the legality and origin of wood and paper products, as well as technologies that can trace, monitor, and compile information about products through the supply chain. Conducting random audits and fiber analyses can also help verify the makeup of raw materials and their origin. 

Disney is not alone in its forest stewardship policies. Other leading companies, including members of the Forest Legality Alliance and WRI’s Corporate Consultative Group, have put paper purchasing policies in place that take similar approaches. For instance, several other policies recognize forest certification as evidence of responsible forest management and legality of forest products, request additional safeguards (e.g. certification, legality verification) in areas deemed to be of high risk, or prioritize action in areas or products where the company has more control. WRI is currently developing case studies to explore how different companies implement their paper and wood procurement policies. 

WRI is encouraged by Disney’s step forward. We hope that Disney—as well as other companies—will continue to promote policies that build a demand for paper products sourced from sustainably managed forests. 

Note: WRI served as an informal advisor to help Disney develop its paper sourcing and use policies. Disney is a member of WRI’s Corporate Consultative Group and the Forest Legality Alliance.